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InfoQ Homepage Articles Connecting Goals to Daily Teamwork

Connecting Goals to Daily Teamwork

Key Takeaways

  • For development teams, there's a noticeable separation between “regular work” and “goal work.” For most team members, ad hoc “goal work” might feel sustainable from moment-to-moment, but may not accrue to reaching goals in the long run.
  • Tracking goals outside the daily flow of work makes it harder to learn and improve each day. If team members are waiting until the next month or quarter to share formal updates on goal progress, they're missing out on opportunities to adjust daily approaches along the way.
  • Technology enables developer teams to make daily progress towards shared goals and turn team goals into real, tangible results that are easy to discuss and — most importantly — act on every day.
  • “Dark work” - the day-to-day activity employees do just to keep the lights on - is often overlooked among top-line goals, necessitating a system to track how much time is spent on work that is unrelated to overall organizational metrics.
  • Developers can effectively manage workflow by dividing activities into “low” and “high” leverage tasks; managers can boost productivity and morale by prioritizing high leverage tasks over low leverage ones.

On most days, a typical engineering manager’s schedule is packed with meetings and reactive work, leaving less time to check in on progress towards team goals. In fact, the busier you get, the longer you may delay analyzing and reviewing your teams’ progress.

Furthermore, trying to get a sense of where things stand can lead to your team feeling harried and micromanaged, which contributes to a lack of trust and ultimately undermines team cohesiveness and productivity.

While we all believe that goal setting is important, it’s work that often doesn’t feel quite urgent enough to be included in our daily routine.

Unfortunately, the longer you go without taking stock of how you are progressing, the more likely you are to get off track. In fact, it’s not uncommon for teams to forget the core purpose of a project entirely and, midway through, find themselves working on accomplishing something different from the original goal. For example, I’ve seen a project that was originally intended to improve new user experience evolve into a project that deepened value for already engaged users; a deviation that was apparent in hindsight and negatively impacted higher level priorities.

It’s therefore essential to figure out a regular cadence that connects daily work more directly to high-level goals, removing administrative roadblocks while helping teammates focus on what matters most. 

Current Goal Setting Systems

Goal setting systems have been around since Peter Drucker’s 1954 book “The Practice of Management.” His original concept (“Management by Objectives”) is now considered to be somewhat of a relic, but his work still inspires successors. From S.M.A.R.T. goals to The Balanced Scorecard (BSC), management leaders are continuously devising new systems to keep organizations on track to achieve ambitious goals. Today, the three dominant approaches in the tech industry are OKRs, V2MOM, and 4DX WIGs. Here’s an overview:

  • OKRs - OKR stands for “Objectives and Key Results.” In this system, businesses define their goals while also making it clear how their progress will be measured with a set of “key results.” This method has been popular since the 1970’s, and is embraced by major tech companies like Twitter and Dropbox. Typically, a business will set three to five objectives to be completed each quarter, along with three to five key results measuring each objective. For example, the OKR for an ecommerce company might be, “We will launch our new website, which will raise sales by 30% in this quarter”. OKR success is typically measured on a sliding scale from 0 to 1, with “0.3” being a near complete failure and “0.7” being the minimum threshold for success.

  • V2MOM - V2MOM is the brainchild of Salesforce’s founder and CEO Marc Benioff. The unusual acronym stands for “Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures.” Its goal is to remind adherents to regularly ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Vision — what do you want to achieve?
  2. Values — what’s important to you?
  3. Methods — how do you get it?
  4. Obstacles — what is preventing you from being successful?
  5. Measures — how do you know you have it?

Rather than wait for a quarterly performance review, employees are expected to continuously discuss and update their own personal V2MOM. There are also V2MOM’s set for departments and individual teams across the company. Visibility is a major factor in this system, so Salesforce publishes every employee’s V2MOM on their internal social network.

  • 4DX WIGs - The 4DX WIGs model originated in Chris McChesney’s 2012 book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”. The book encourages readers to narrow their focus to only a few “WIGs”, or “Wildly Important Goals”, rather than be distracted by too many irrelevant aims. 4DX WIGs focuses on motivating employees to feel like their team is winning by showing them that they can affect the business outcome. The “4DX” refers to the four disciplines, which are:

Discipline 1 - Focus on the wildly important goal. These goals have a clear start, finish, and deadline.

Discipline 2 - Act on the “lead” measures. “Lead” measures are behaviors that “lead” to  WIGs like higher revenue, profit, and quality. The book calls these outcomes the “lag” measures.

Discipline 3 - Keep a compelling scoreboard. Get employees engaged by allowing them to see how their actions can influence both the “lead” and “lag” measures.

Discipline 4 - Create a cadence of accountability. This means short, regular team meetings that focus on the Wildly Important Goal. Team members must also make a commitment to “impact the scoreboard” each week by identifying specific goals they will achieve.

Challenges to Implementing a Goal Setting System

There’s a reason popular tools like OKRs, V2MOM, and 4DXWIGS are used by big-name tech companies like Google, Salesforce, and Amazon. When goals are set effectively and systems are put in place to make sure they are implemented on the ground level, these programs really work. However, there are significant hurdles to effectively implementing them in a scalable way.

Most organizations set company or department wide goals that are high-level and abstract. Teams identify projects and work streams which they believe will contribute meaningfully towards the goal. Goal process, then feels decoupled from the work, designed to keep senior stakeholders informed rather than benefiting workers on the ground. Many employees see goal-setting as a pointless task that distracts them from “real work”, doesn’t benefit the team, or even worse the processes are seen as materially detrimental to company progress.

Problem: Daily and Long-term Work Goals aren’t “Right-sized”

They say a goal without a plan is only a wish. Many businesses conflate objectives and goals, but there is a difference. A goal is a long term aim for your business, while an objective is one of the smaller steps that take you there. For example, a company might have the goal of increasing user engagement. They pursue this goal by successfully completing a series of objectives, like increasing the average number of minutes spent on a single screen or creating a marketing plan to get more email sign-ups. Goals are broad, while objectives are narrow.

Solution: Set S.M.A.R.T. Objectives

A S.M.A.R.T. objective is one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, if a company wanted to attract more customers, they might set the S.M.A.R.T. objective as:

  • Specific - We want to gain more customers
  • Measurable - We want to gain 10,000 more customers
  • Attainable - We gained 7,000 customers last quarter, and we have a new growth expert on board.
  • Relevant - Our product is nearly finished, so this is a good time to grow.
  • Time-bound - We want to gain 10,000 customers within this quarter.

Problem: Managers and Executives Can’t Track Employee Work

One reason company wide goals can get lost in the shuffle is inefficient communication. When employers want to know what teams are working on, they typically send out emails or call meetings to track progress on specific projects. 

Traditional goal setting systems rest on a hierarchical system where executives at the top set objectives and these top level goals unpack through the organization, teams owning a part of the puzzle. However, it’s less common for these systems to be connected to the projects and tasks that people are working on day to day, so information doesn’t trickle up.

Solution: Goal Tracking Software

Digital tools can take the busywork and stress out of tracking how daily work ladders up to higher level goals. Range is a software used by many tech companies including Twitter and New Relic. With Range, teams set their own schedule for checking in about plans and their works in progress. Asynchronous check-ins make it easy for remote teams to efficiently share updates as part of their daily routine. 

Problem: Disconnect Between Organization Goals and Work Life

In a large organization, individual employees may not be able to connect their work to the organization’s goals. For example, if the goal is to increase visits to a webpage by 30 percent, it’s not immediately obvious how keeping software dependencies up to date contributes to that outcome. While this infrastructure work is critical, it is far removed from what people focus on in meetings and all hands, it can seem irrelevant and thankless.

When individuals don’t understand how their work contributes to the company’s vision, it can undermine engagement and motivation.  A Deloitte report found that when employees connect their work to a purpose, companies had 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.

Solution: Connect to Daily Work 

Ensure all projects and workstreams are associated with a goal, and make it obvious to everyone. Our organization uses #hashtags to take the busy work out of connecting daily work to wider initiatives. Digital tools like Range make it easy to regularly check-in both asynchronously and synchronously about how you are tracking towards the goal and most can integrate with popular tools like Slack, Google Docs, and Asana. The result is a higher level of worker engagement and motivation to follow through on company-wide initiatives.

Problem: Dark Work Is Overlooked

“Dark work” is the day-to-day activity employees do just to keep the lights on. For example, while the business goal might be to increase site visitors by 20 percent this quarter, engineers often have bugs to fix or support tickets to help with.. Tests, developer productivity, scaling, hiring, DEI, and interviews are all necessary but invisible “dark work” for most teams. Only focusing on a high level goal over every other task can demotivate employees, who know intrinsically that the maintenance work is critical to the success of an organization. 

While dark work rarely relates directly to top-line goals, or moves key business metrics, it is  a necessary part of day-to-day operations. And, the truth is that many managers may be completely unaware that dark work is being done. It’s hard to track these efforts, so there is no way to ensure employees get recognized for these “under the radar” contributions. 

Solution: Applaud “dark work” and non-goal work

Employees deserve credit for the dark work they do that a goal setting system might overlook. That’s why it’s important to establish a system to track how much time is spent on work that is unrelated to the overall business goal. A product like Range can allow workers to enter their plans for the day and cross off tasks digitally. This way, workers know that the work they do that’s unrelated to the overall business goal is still seen and rewarded. Research by Gallup has shown that organizations in the top quartile for engagement are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.

Problem: Remote Workers Are Kept Out of the Loop

COVID has forced many businesses to turn to remote work. When employees communicate only through emails and Zoom meetings, there is less opportunity to stay informed through ambient awareness of company-wide initiatives. Water cooler chit-chat and happy hour hangs may have seemed like informal fun, but they gave employees the opportunity to communicate directly with their manager and coworkers. 

When working remotely, you often don’t even know what you don’t know. The result is that employees are not as informed as they could be, and businesses risk losing focus and becoming less aligned.

Solution: Set a Regular Meeting Schedule 

Checking in with your team on a regular basis can improve team dynamics, help folks be more productive, boost engagement by 3x according to Gallup, and decrease turnover. In addition to a daily 15-minute stand up, teams should conduct a weekly team meeting. Asynchronous check-ins work well when you’re on the same page, but there’s no replacement for high-bandwidth, human connection. 

An example of a weekly thirty minute check-in meeting could be:

  • Quick share on how everyone’s doing (5 min)
  • Troubleshoot unresolved issues encountered during the week(5 min)
  • Go deep on topics requiring further discussion (5 min)
  • Go deep on topics requiring further discussion (10 min)
  • Open time for follow-up questions and other impromptu topics that come up (5 min)
  • Team building question (5 min)

When teams check-in regularly, workers come to expect the meetings and can rely on it as a backstop to bring questions, concerns, and ideas. An agenda is important, to keep the meeting efficient and make sure that you cover information relevant to the team’s goals. Finally, all hands meetings are a good way to bring  the entire team together to share progress from other teams and to discuss high level business updates.

Prioritize High Leverage Tasks

The best way for employees to manage workflow is to divide activities into “low” and “high” leverage tasks. Low leverage tasks waste time and don’t contribute much to a company’s bottomline. For example, if an engineer were to spend time refactoring a rarely touched piece of code,, this would be considered a low leverage task. However, a part of the codebase that gets changed regularly could be high-leverage, since it can improve developer productivity for many people. 

The high and low leverage task model has been embraced by General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt and FedEx founder Fred Smith, and involve three major strategies for companies to improve the ratio of high to low leverage tasks:

  1. Delegate - Managers should delegate low levleverageel tasks to others for whom the task would be high leverage.
  2. Redesign - If a certain job has too many low leverage tasks, they can be combined and turned into a new role. The new employee will be hired specifically to deal with these tasks, so for them they are now high levleverageel.
  3. Outsource  - Low leverage tasks can be outsourced and handled by another company. For example, a staffing agency could handle hiring instead of a product manager.

Prioritizing high leverage tasks over low leverage ones is a great way to boost employee productivity. A focus on creating an optimal workflow, rather than reaching a company wide goal, can feel more relevant and attainable for employees. Best of all, when workers are engaged with the tasks relevant to their jobs, they tend to perform higher quality work.


If your goals and objectives are only being used to help leadership understand the progress of your teams, you are missing out. Working towards goals can improve alignment and help individuals feel more connected to the purpose of their work, improving loyalty and motivation. Start thinking about goals as part of the daily workflow. By connecting day-to-day work more directly to high-level goals, you remove much of the administrative burden while helping teammates focus on what’s important. Ultimately, your teammates stay connected to both short and long-term goals, keeping them aligned and motivated. 

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